Zereshk Polo- Persian Chicken with Barberries & Rice
I try my hand at dishes based on many styles of cuisine from the world over, that I try to give my signature to and present in my own interpretation... but it is not often that I make anything Persian- and seeing the beautiful bright-red barberries at the market hall yesterday, changed my mind and things simply had to change today...
I can't claim to know many Persian dishes, but this has been one of my favorites for many, many years- right since the first time I tasted it, cooked to perfection by the wife of a dear Persian friend, who was kind enough to show me how it was prepared. The original dish, though simple, is rather time consuming and has, unfortunately for someone who is careful of his calories, too much butter in it for it to really be something I would make too often. So I came up with this quicker, lighter and more convenient version... it works for me and I hope for you all too!
In the original version, quite an amount of butter and saffron is placed into a saucepan and then the rice and chicken are added in alternating layers, along with the barberries and other ingredients and then the saucepan is sealed with a dishcloth on top as well as the lid to prevent any steam escaping, whilst it steams away for around an hour. And of course, an hour is not THAT long- and if you DO do it this way, you get a crispy bottom layer of rice at the bottom of the pan, which is nice to crunch on and which is what my persian friends like best... but for a guy living on his own... a 20 minute version with less butter, less time involved and just as much delicious flavor, sounds like a decent trade-off! So, onwards with my version!
The first thing I did was to start the rice boiling- regular Basmati rice or even a Thai jasmin rice are best I have found. Next, take a nice pinch of saffron threads and soak them in a cupful of boiling water, so that the release their aroma and color and will be ready to use to flavor the dish once the rice is done. So that gives us 15 minutes to get the rest organized- but fear not! That is more than enough time- because the rest is really simple!
The other ingredients I needed for this were: 1 thinly sliced chicken breast, 1 clove of garlic, 1 small finely sliced onion, 1 small carrot cut into "julienne", 1 handful of raisins, 2 handfuls of barberries, 1 handful of almond splinters and a little parsley to garnish... that's not too bad now, is it? I started off by frying the chicken in a little butter with salt and pepper until it began to brown- then set it to one side and added the carrot, onion, garlic and almonds to the frying pan. I seasoned with salt, pepper, a little cayenne and a little cinnamon and stirred everything through until the onion began to turn transparent.
Once the onion and carrot had begun to soften a little, I returned the chicken and added the barberries and raisins, squeezed in the juice of 1 lemon and tossed everything together nicely... and then in went the rice and the saffron- including the water of course! I checked the seasoning and added a little more salt as necessary (it does tend to taste a little sweet due to the carrot and raisins), added a final pat of butter and served it up piping hot with a sprinkle of parsley to garnish. And do you know what? I didn't miss having to wait for a whole hour to eat my supper at all!